On the 40th anniversary of historic abortion rights case Roe v. Wade, Denver's new Archbishop, 61-year-old Samuel J. Aquila has released a pastoral letter called "40 Years of the Culture of Death" condemning the landmark Supreme Court ruling and claiming that in all cases, abortion is wrong.
In the letter, Aquila recounts a time when he was in college, prior to his religious work, studying to become a doctor when he witnessed two abortions that he says changed his perspective on the issue:
I will never forget that I stood witness to acts of unspeakable brutality. In the abortions I witnessed, powerful people made decisions that ended the lives of small, powerless, children. Through lies and manipulation, children were seen as objects. Women and families were convinced that ending a life would be painless, and forgettable. Experts made seemingly convincing arguments that the unborn were not people at all, that they could not feel pain, and were better off dead.
I witnessed the death of two small people who never had the chance to take a breath. I can never forget that. And I have never been the same. My faith was weak at the time. But I knew by reason, and by what I saw, that a human life was destroyed. My conscience awakened to the truth of the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception. I became pro-life and eventually returned to my faith.
I learned what human dignity was when I saw it callously disregarded. I know, without a doubt, that abortion is a violent act of murder and exploitation. And I know that our responsibility is to work and pray without ceasing for its end.
Later in the letter Aquila restates the Catholic church's position writing, "abortion is always wrong." For Aquila, abortion is a "sinful" act, but the Archbishop also says that Church should respond to women who have undergone abortions with "compassion:"
Though abortion is never a justifiable action, the response of the Church to women who have undergone abortions should be one of compassion, of solidarity, and of mercy. Abortion is a sinful act, and a tragedy. The fathers and mothers of aborted children are beloved by God, and in need of the mercy and healing of Jesus Christ. Programs like Project Rachel exist to help women who have had abortions encounter the merciful and forgiving love of God, our Father.
As Roe v. Wade turns 40 today, public support for the 1973 Supreme Court decision is at its highest level since polls began to measure it in 1989. Seven in 10 Americans do not believe the case should be overturned, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.
A HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in October of 2012 found 27 percent of respondents said they believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 22 percent said that it should generally be legal but with some restrictions, and 30 percent said it should be illegal except in special circumstances, while only 15 percent said it should always be illegal.
Roe v. Wade was a 1973 case in which the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment covered a woman's right to chose to have an abortion, but the government has the ability to regulate abortion as it pertains to protecting prenatal life and protecting women's health.
Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 case that said the state cannot make it illegal to use birth control, set the stage for Roe. If the Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, it could affect whether a state could make contraception illegal if the decision removed a right to privacy.
Prior to the Roe decision, women sometimes had to resort to dangerous alternatives such as so-called "back alley abortions."
The letter condemning abortion from Denver's newest archbishop should come as no surprise. Aquila, who was appointed by current Pope Benedict XVI last May, has been described by Denver's 5280 Magazine as being "ideologically on par with his outspoken predecessor" Charles Chaput who frequently spoke out against abortion and called Barack Obama "the most committed ''abortion-rights'' presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973."
Aquila has previously acquired some notoriety for speaking out against the 2009 decision of the University of Notre Dame to invite President Obama to give the school's commencement address and accused the university of "ignoring their Catholic identity."
While in Fargo, according to the Associated Press, Aquila spoke out against the American Civil Liberties Union for "the removal of God from anything," and assured reporters on Tuesday that he would hold firm to Catholic teachings when it came time for legislation on civil unions.
He went on to add that organizations that encourage people to keep their faith quiet is “imposing on us their beliefs and their value system.”
In his 2009 letter protesting the President's invitation to speak at Notre Dame to Rev. John Jenkins, the president of the university, Aquila wrote:
Even though President Obama is not Catholic, he clearly rejects the truth about human dignity through his constant support of a so called “right to abortion.” He also tolerates the inexcusable act of letting aborted children die who are born alive. He promotes an intrinsic evil which must always be resisted by a just and civil society.
Inviting President Obama to award him a degree and to speak at a Catholic University implicitly extends legitimacy to his views on these issues in the minds of the average onlooker. Your actions and that of the Board of Trustees of Notre Dame do real harm to the mission of Catholic education in this country and further splinters Catholic witness in the public square.
Prior to his naming, Aquila was no stranger to Denver. He studied at the local St. Thomas Seminary, has a bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and was even ordained to priesthood in Denver in 1976.